I am a Special Education Program Aide. I help primary school aged children with disabilities access education in a mainstream school. I am also mother to a beautiful child on the Autism Spectrum. I recently attended a training session to help understand the impacts of effective communication on early education. I was astounded by the life outcome statistics. I can’t quote them directly because I think I went into shock, but as the dust settled two things were clear:
- There is a direct link between poor communication skills and incarceration.
- Social skills are key to effective communication.
Now for us carers of a child on the spectrum that really sucks. It’s another worry to add to the list.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive developmental disorder depicted by markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests.
As my heart pounded in my chest, stressing about the future of my child, I realised something – my child might not be as disadvantaged as I had once thought. You see, unlike neuro-typical children where communication and social skills are assumed, my child has had specific social skills training to be able to function in the world around them. I left the session with hope, perhaps my child won’t turn out to be a criminal after all 🙂 It did get me thinking on a wider scale though.
The media often reports on the increase of schoolyard and online bullying and the deficits in education identified by NAPLAN testing. With this in mind and with what I have learnt about the importance of effective communication in early childhood I think its time to change our nationwide approach to education. To start, reassess the goals of Kindergarten graduation and the priorities of parents of three, four and five-year olds. Shift the focus for this age group away from academics and focus on social skills.
Academics has long been the centre of education in Australia. When my children graduated Kindy there was emphasis on independence, knowing the alphabet, knowing how to count and how to write their name. If your children could read this was considered a great advantage.
What I now know from the training session, life and work experience is that the only things that are really important to begin in mainstream Prep are:
- Independence – being able to dress, feed and toilet themselves.
- Social skills.
- Basic communication skills.
Life skills not academics, the rest can be taught modifications can be made to help children learn. Without the above life skills children are way behind the eight ball and that makes learning anything difficult. If a child cannot wait, share, take turns, communicate with respect, regulate their emotions or express them appropriately they are going to have a tough time in a Prep classroom.
The training session highlighted that prior to attending school there are children that don’t have a lot of social skills opportunities. This is due to:
- Parents communicating more via written mediums. (TXT, Email, Social Media)
- Social isolation.
In my opinion this is creating a generation confused by social expectations. Sound familiar, spectrum parents? It’s not just our kids it’s the neuro-typical kids too!
So what is the effect of this?
A very difficult generation to teach.
It seems we are setting this generation up for failure by trying to teach a national curriculum to children that don’t have enough social and communication skills to learn in the first place. I know that Personal and Social Capability is part of the curriculum but it needs to start before they get to Prep.
Why are social skills so important?
They are also a basis of communication. (Active listening, eye contact, body language, tone etc.)
How do we do this, how do we teach social skills?
Maggie Dent, ‘Australia’s queen of common sense’ is a big advocate for play as a method of learning, guess what kids learn when they play with others – social skills.
I’ll let you in on a secret; when teaching communication and social skills to young children, politeness needs to be thrown out the window, well sort of. You will need to be brutally honest, tact is confusing and that’s where there are a lot of parallels to teaching social skills to a child with Autism.
As a parent of a child on the spectrum I have had to teach my child how to; listen, follow directions, share, wait, take turns, accept differences, resolve conflict, ask permission, help others, respect personal space, celebrate success that is not their own, how to be a good friend and recognise qualities of a good friend, tell them that their obsession is not key to the world turning and though they are the centre of my world, the universe does not revolve around them. I could not teach these things by being polite all the time, honesty was the key. What has been the outcome of me teaching my child social skills? A successful transition to high school.
So if you are at the stage where you are getting your child school ready for Prep my suggestion is this; make sure they have the social skills they need to learn. Forget the academics, unless they love it. Expose them to different social situations and show them how to cope. Teach them resilience and give them a strong social skill foundation and the rest will, most likely, work out in the wash.